In a few weeks’ time football hooligans, far right activists, anti-Muslim hatemongers and racists from Europe and North America will descend on the Swedish capital of Stockholm for the first global anti-Muslim rally. The stated public reason for the demonstration is to protest against the actions of an Iraqi-born Swedish national, Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, who in December 2010 prematurely blew himself up whilst embarking on a suicide mission in protest against Swedish troops in Afghanistan.
However, the real target of this rally are all Muslims, a religion these groups bitterly oppose and perceive as a danger to the West. Addressing the rally will be US-based Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, Stephen Lennon, leader of the English Defence League and Anders Gravers, head of the Stop Islamisation of Europe. It will be the first time that the leaders of the so-called counter-jihad movement have all taken to the streets together.
A month later, these same groups and more will gather in New York for a more formal conference. The purpose of this and other events is the development of a global organization, stretching from North America to Europe, Israel to India, through which anti-Muslim activities will be co-ordinated.
In response to the worrying rise of the counter-jihad movement, as these groups collectively call themselves, and its increasing influence over political and media discourse, HOPE not hate has produced a report investigating the phenomenon. The report profiles 550 organisations and individuals who are connected.
The report, supported by the Fund to Counter Xenophobia within the Open Society Foundations, not only covers those extreme right-wing political parties, who are increasingly using anti-Muslim rhetoric to garner votes, it also explores the websites and bloggers who propagate scare stories about Islam. It covers the street gangs, like the English Defence League, and the like-minded groups they inspire around Europe. It also investigates the funders and the foundations which bankroll the network.
The alliance is a broad group of people and ideas embracing sections of neo-Conservatives, Christian evangelicals, hard-line racists, football hooligans, nationalists, right wing populists and some former leftists. Some are hard-line, others less so. Some are openly racist, others are not. But in all cases the rhetoric used, either explicitly or by implication, leads us to question whether the target is merely those extremists who claim to act for Islam or if this rhetoric goes wider, criticising Islam as a faith and Muslims as a people. In many instances, this criticism leads to hatred. This new anti-Muslim stance and the disparate groups it gathers suggests a more insidious and new form of cultural racism at work.
What marks the counter-jihad movement out from a debate on extremism are their generalizations and fear mongering about the entire faith of Islam; most are unwilling to differentiate between the actions of a few and the vast majority of Muslims who reject extremism.
Replacing the old racial nationalist politics of traditional far-right parties with the language of cultural and identity wars, the anti-Muslim movement presents itself as more mainstream and respectable and represents a new side to the political far-right. As we have seen in Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland these new right-wing populist parties, with their message of intolerance and fear, can garner broad appeal.
Though members of this counter-jihad movement are numerically small, their influence is much bigger. The vociferous prejudice these groups propagate poisons the political and social discourse, sometimes with deadly effect.
Norwegian killer Anders Behring Breivik was inspired by many of the counter-jihadists we profile on the HOPE not hate website and report. Perhaps Breivik would have gone on a killing spree without reading their work, but it is clear their writings had an important impact on the creation of his political mind-set.
Following the massacre of Norwegian innocents, those who Breivik cited as inspiration were desperate to distance themselves from his actions. Many did so because they were genuinely appalled by what he did. Others were worried about how this would impact on them.
The everyday impact of this divisive rhetoric continues to be felt. At Home in Europe, a project of the Open Society Foundations which works to negate hostile rhetoric and advance the social inclusion of vulnerable communities in Europe, found in a report on Muslims in eleven European cities that that religious and racial discrimination against Muslims remains a critical barrier to full and equal participation in society. A recent report by Amnesty International shows how many Muslims in Europe suffer from stereotypes and are discriminated against on a daily basis.
For the everyday impact this rhetoric and activity has on societies around Europe as well the horrific events of Norway, this anti-Muslim, racist movement pedalling prejudice and division, otherwise known as the counter-jihad movement, is one we cannot chose to ignore.